In 2004, Jason and I won a trip out to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. We had filled out some entry form at the bar months prior and were surprised when someone called to tell us they would cover our airplane and hotel stay (!) Who knew those things actually worked? We were elated.
We were only there for 4 days but got a chance to see lots of things and try lots of local flavor. The food there is amazing, so rich in flavor and soul. I loved the Creole cuisine — super creamy and elegant with gorgeous sauces and delicious bites of shellfish. Jason fell for Cajun style with the emphasis on meats, rice; it’s much more comfort down-home in nature. Despite the slight difference in cooking technique, both variations were delicious.
This is my interpretation of Creole-Cajun fusion, with the turkey and sausage providing that satisfying yen for meaty comfort while the melt-in-your-mouth backdrop of the creamy semolina lends just enough drama. The first time I made this, I added a tinge too much cayenne pepper so I decreased the amount by half since the andouille sausage has enough spice on its own. And I’ll forewarn you: the heat tends to build in your mouth as you eat, so take that into consideration when you’re deciding how much spice to toss in.
Cajun Turkey and Andouille Sausage Gumbo with Semolina “Grits”
Recipe adapted very slightly from Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardner Cook via Simply Recipes
Serves a mess of gumbo, enough to freeze for future use, about 10-14 servings
6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped roughly
2 links andouille sausage, each cut in half lengthwise then again and chopped into half-moon shapes
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup flour
2 green bell peppers, diced
4 celery stalks + feathery leaves, diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 – 2 1/2 cups leftover shredded turkey meat, approximately*
Handful chopped kale**
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart water
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Curly parsley, chopped roughly for garnish
*I made this gumbo a few days after Thanksgiving, when I had tons of leftover turkey meat to use up. The original recipe called for frying up chicken so you can always opt for that if you don’t have shredded turkey laying around.
**I also had some purple flowering kale in my crisper drawer so I chopped some up and threw them into the pot at the last minute. I loved how it turned out, with the purple flecks strewn about the stew, sort of brightening up the otherwise “brownness” of the gumbo. You don’t have to add kale for sure, but if you have any vegetable odds and ends in your fridge, I don’t see any harm tossing them in too.
In a large stock pot set over medium heat, fry up the bacon. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the bacon grease in the pot. Toss in the chopped andouille sausage and cook until nicely browned, about 7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and put it with the bacon. You should have a good amount of grease in the pot now (smiley face). But, you still need more for the roux. Add in 1/2 cup canola oil and let it warm for a minute or two. Then, dump in the flour and start whisking like mad, for several minutes, then turn the heat down slightly to medium-low and continue to whisk, every couple minutes. Gumbos get their rich deep flavor (and color) from the roux — this roux is cooked much longer than a traditional one that you would make for a béchamel for instance. I cooked this for about 15 minutes, whisking constantly until it thickened and turned a beautiful golden caramel color.
While the roux cooks you can start warming up the chicken stock and water in a separate pot.
When the roux is done, toss in the chopped bell peppers, celery, and onion, stirring to coat. Let this cook for about 5 minutes and then toss in the garlic, cooking for another couple minutes. Toss in the shredded turkey, kale, and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Then, start ladling in the chicken stock/water to the pot of roux and veggies — it will start to sputter a bit but continue to pour, whisk until the gumbo has your desired thickness. Ideally, you want it to be slightly waterier than you want at the end because the liquid will get soaked up by all the ingredients and will evaporate slightly during cooking.
Sprinkle in the seasonings and stir. Dump in the bacon and andouille sausage and reduce the flame to low, covering slightly with a lid. Let this go for several hours, stirring and tasting every now and again to check for flavors. I cooked mine for about 3 hours, taking the lid off during the last 45 minutes to thicken even more.
I served this a few times with plain white rice (which my husband preferred) and also with semolina “grits” I had experimented with (which I preferred). Either way, you’ll definitely want to eat this full-flavored gumbo with something to absorb the sauce and tame the heat. Garnish with curly parsley and enjoy!
Semolina “Grits” Recipe
Totally not traditional, I know, since grits are typically made from ground corn or hominy, but I experimented a bit and I fell in love with the softer (and quicker cook time) of semolina. It’s more like a porridge in consistency and really melts in your mouth with each bite.
Makes about 4-6 servings
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semolina (duram wheat)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
More salt to taste
In a medium-sized pot set over medium flame, warm the milk and salt together until it comes to a slight bubble. Slowly start pouring in the semolina, whisking at the same time. It will start to thicken almost immediately, let this cook for about 5-6 minutes. Then, dump in the butter and mix to melt. Pour in the heavy cream and Parmesan cheese; mix and take off the heat. Taste it for salt, adding more if you’d like. At this point, it’s ready to eat with whatever you want. I thought this was delicious with the gumbo but I could imagine it with anything from short ribs to sauteed shrimp to roast chicken.